Vendor lock-in, DRM, and crappy EULAs are turning America's independent farmers into tenant farmers

"Precision agriculture" is to farmers as Facebook is to publishers: farmers who want to compete can't afford to boycott the precision ag platforms fielded by the likes of John Deere, but once they're locked into the platforms' walled gardens, they are prisoners, and the platforms start to squeeze them for a bigger and bigger share of their profits.

John Deere's use of DRM to monopolize and price-gouge the market for tractor service is just the tip of the iceberg; there's also Deere's aggressive harvesting of farmers' crop and field data, which the farmers themselves only get limited access to. Combine that with super-restrictive, crazy-long EULAs that gives Deere and its competitors the right to sell farmers' data to anyone, and bans the farmers from getting their own data, and you've got tenant-farming, 21st century style: farmers may own their land, but they only license the tools, data, and platforms that let them work it.

Farmers agree to a multinational corporation's EULA literally every time they turn the key in the ignition of their tractors. Deere reserves the right to brick your tractor if they think you're violating that EULA.

The thought of their tools being rendered useless at an inopportune time must be terrifying for farmers. Indeed, it’s a reason the right to repair issue has become such a hot issue, and one of the worries driving farmers to utilize illegal Ukrainian software to hack their tractors, as Motherboard illustrated in a recent documentary.

But if these farmers can hack their devices, who else can? As mentioned, farms now are full of interconnected devices, meaning there are many points of entry for a remote attack. Can a bad actor hack a tractor, a sensor, or a combine and hold a farmer’s crop hostage? Will our farmers become the next big victims of ransomware? Could someone—maybe even a state actor—bring a whole network of tractors down, or force a script to dump 10 percent more chemicals or fertilizer, effectively salting the earth? These examples wouldn't just be an attack on farmers, but on the United States' food security and economy.

America's Farmers Are Becoming Prisoners to Agriculture's Technological Revolution [Rian Wanstreet/Motherboard]